Verity Firth says she will work to restore the Labor Party’s “moral core” after she was pre-selected on Saturday, May 3 as the party’s candidate in the seat of Balmain for the 2015 state election. The pre-selection was also contested by current Leichhardt mayor Darcy Byrne.
This was the second trial of the community pre-selection model, where any member of the electorate who is not a member of another party can vote alongside ALP members. It is a preliminary step for the party in attempting to stave off potential corruption by taking some influence away from factional powerbrokers.
“It was a really fantastic process and a real sign the Labor Party is reforming [and] opening up our doors to the community,” Ms Firth said.
Mr Byrne congratulated Ms Firth on her victory.
“I’ll be doing everything in my power to make sure she is the next member for Balmain,” Mr Byrne told the Inner West Independent.
About 5000 non-ALP members in the electorate cast a vote, making it a larger turnout than the Newtown community pre-selection in March.
The community vote is weighted 50 per cent against a ballot of ALP members, in which about 360 people voted.
Ms Firth won the community vote 3104 votes to Mr Byrne’s 2006. However, she lost the members’ ballot by nine votes on raw numbers, not taking into account Labor’s 20 per cent loading policy for female candidates.
After adjustment for the loading, she achieved 53 per cent of the branch vote to win the pre-selection battle with a 59 per cent majority overall.
“It’s about the party actually opening up its selection processes so that we can restore faith for Labor,” she said.
“We … have to restore our moral core on issues like asylum seeker policy, on issues like gay marriage, but also on bread and butter issues like making sure we’re actually funding public education properly, making sure everybody has a genuine capacity to fulfil their potential,” she told the Inner West Independent.
“Most of all, bringing back the environment and climate change to the central tenets of Labor’s policy.”
Her opponent Darcy Byrne has long called for major reforms to the way senior leadership and upper house positions are filled, arguing for a system where the entire party membership is involved in candidate selection. Mr Byrne doesn’t see the pre-selection loss as a setback to his campaign for this cause.
“We need comprehensive, not cosmetic, reforms. The annual conference in July will be a great opportunity for Labor to open itself up to real democracy,” he said.
At the conference, Senator John Faulkner is expected to propose future NSW senate and legislative council members be determined by the party’s entire membership base. The motion only has an outside chance of success, but it’s a move Mr Byrne believes is critical.
“The future of the party depends on us making these changes right now,” he said.
With more than 10 per cent of all voters in the electorate turning out to vote, the community pre-selection trial has capitalised on a mood for change. Balmain resident Cliff Simcox agrees with Mr Byrne’s assessment that more openness is essential.
“But, yeah, I’m happy with the result,” added Mr Simcox, who is an ALP voter.
Ms Firth refused to speculate on her chances at the next state election. The seat of Balmain is currently held by Greens MP Jamie Parker on a margin of 5 per cent.